National Football Authority has opened the door to some more interviews. In addition to Steelers LB Stevenson Sylvester, I also interviewed Titans PK Rob Bironas this week. See what Rob has to say about the new kickoff rules, the new head coach in Tennessee, and much more. Click here to read more.
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Week 1 was full of kicker craziness. In most weeks, Titans PK Rob Bironas attempting a 66-yard kick would win this award. And in almost every week, Chargers P Mike Scifres taking over for an injured Nate Kaeding and scoring six points on three extra points and a 40-yard field goal would be a lock. (UPDATE: And then Sebastian Janikowski tying the league record with a 63-yard field goal against Denver!) But not in Week One.
The award goes to Ravens P Sam Koch, who called an audible at the line on an extra point attempt and ran it in for a two-point conversion. That surprise fake is even crazier when you consider that the Ravens led 27-7 early in the third quarter when Koch pulled off the play. Koch said the play wasn’t designed to insult the Steelers, Baltimore’s biggest rival. Instead, they gave him a look that he had been waiting to see for two years. That led to a Balitmore Sun headline that read “Koch denies that two-point conversion was a sign of disrespect.” Shenanigans plus controversy equals the height of craziness, and that makes Koch the crazy kicker of the week.
There has been a shocking lack of shenanigans from kickers thus far in the NFL season, but Tennessee’s Rob Bironas moved onto the Crazy Kicker list in Week 2 with a sneaky-good onside kick. With the Titans trailing 19-11 late in the fourth quarter, Bironas lined up for an onside kick to the left, but instead of going for a big hopper to that side, he dribbled the ball up the middle. Only one Steeler was in the area, and when he couldn’t handle the ball, the Titans recovered. During film prep for the week, the Titans identified the middle as the weak spot in the Steelers’ hands team, and Bironas executed the plan perfectly to give the Titans one last-gasp opportunity. For that, we’ll award Rob the Crazy Kicker of the Week award.
2010 Crazy Kickers of the Week
CFL: WR Dave Stala, Tiger-Cats
Preseason Week 1: P Brett Kern, Titans
Preseason Week 2: PK Robbie Gould, Bears
Week 2: PK/Kickoff Rob Bironas, Titans
Each week, we watch a specific game and share what we learned. This week we tuned into the Steelers/Titans clash in Nashville, which the Steelers won 19-11. It was a huge win for the Steelers, who move to 2-0 and assure themselves of a solid start in the absence of QB Ben Roethlisberger. When Big Ben returns, the Steelers will add a passing dimension to their game that they’ve been without thus far, and that will take them from a good team to a true contender.
Here’s what else we saw from both an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective.
*The Steelers got off to a quick start with some shenanigans, using a reverse to spring Antonio Brown free for an 89-yard touchdown return of the game’s opening kickoff. Given the fact that Pittsburgh didn’t score a touchdown in regulation last week, and given the fact that the Dennis Dixon/Charlie Batch combo wasn’t going to score a ton, it was a calculated gamble that paid off big for Pittsburgh.
*Vince Young responded poorly to the intense pressure the Steelers put on him, turning the ball over three times (two picks and a fumble), and because of the turnovers the Titans yanked him from the game in favor of Kerry Collins. Collins’ lack of mobility made him a sitting duck for the Steelers, and he threw an interception and fumbled on his first two series, but you can’t blame Titans head coach Jeff Fisher for looking for a spark. Collins rewarded Fisher’s faith with some sharp passing in the last-ditch comeback effort the Titans mounted late in the fourth quarter.
*Batch, who entered the game when Dixon suffered a knee injury, is a caretaker but nothing more. Still, we prefer him to Byron Leftwich, who has a slower delivery and is more likely to make a crucial mistake. Leftwich was cut before the game but is expected to be re-signed after it.
*The Steelers’ defense is still a scary unit, and the presence of Troy Polamalu takes it to another dimension. Polamalu had an end-zone interception that snuffed out a Tennessee scoring chance. It was one of a whopping seven turnovers the Steelers caused. Pittsburgh also created a ton of pressure up front, as James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, and company were all over Young and Collins. Even more impressively, they kept RB Chris Johnson from breaking out, snapping his string of 12 straight 100-yard games.
*The Titans’ defensive line doesn’t get the credit that the Steelers’ does, but it is a solid unit that created pressure and did a nice job bottling up Rashard Mendenhall. Despite the Steelers’ banged-up offensive line that struggles over and over again, that’s still a credit to the Titans.
*Rob Bironas’ crazy middle on-side kick in the fourth quarter put him in the lead for crazy kicker of the week honors – even if it looked like it was drawn up by the Little Rascals, as Eric Stangel tweeted.
*Kevin Harlan, the CBS play-by-play man, is more detailed than anyone else on the national scene. At the same time, he communicates big moments both clearly and with excitement. He’s perhaps our favorite play-by-play guy on the national scene, and it was good to hear him in this one.
Fantasy Football Perspective
*We’re believers in both Hines Ward and Mike Wallace of the Steelers, but Dixon’s injury killed their value this week. Batch simply isn’t good enough at this advanced age to get them the ball. Fantasy owners have just two more games before Ben Roethlisberger returns, which will help both wideouts, but for now Ward and Wallace aren’t guys you can rely on comfortably.
*We don’t love Mendenhall as a No. 1 fantasy back, and this game showed why. Against a solid defense, he doesn’t have the breakaway speed to enhance his numbers. He ended this game with just 69 yards and a 3.0-yard-per-carry average. Plus, if Isaac Redmond gets goal-line carries (as he did late in the fourth quarter), Mendenhall’s stock slips a bit more. Mendenhall is a good but not great back who is in a great situation, and that’s why he has solid fantasy value. But don’t expect the spectacular from him. He’s a No. 2 fantasy back, not a fantasy franchise player.
*Don’t freak out about Chris Johnson’s so-so game. The Steelers’ defense is death on fantasy running backs, and the seven-turnover performance around him really hurt Johnson’s prospects in this game. It hurts to get just 34 yards from your No. 1 overall pick, but it’s not reason for concern at this point.
*Titans WR Nate Washington scored a touchdown for the second straight week, but given Tennessee’s uncertain QB situation, he’s still not a great investment for fantasy owners. Washington isn’t ownable except in the largest leagues.
For the first time this year, we’re award the Crazy Kicker of the Week award for an on-side kick. Tennessee’s Rob Bironas executed this beauty, changing directions at the last minute and creating enough chaos for his team to recover. The Titans, who trailed 27-17 with very little time left, didn’t capitalize, but that doesn’t take away from the craziness or the capability of Bironas’ play.
Crazy Kickers of the Week
Preseason Week 0/1 – P A.J. Trapasso, Titans
Preseason Week 2 – WR/PK Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
Week 1 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 3 – P/holder Brian Moorman, Bills
Week 5 – P Steve Weatherford, Jets
Week 6 – P Jon Ryan, Seahawks
Week 8 – PK Josh Brown, Rams
Week 10 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 13 – PK/onside kicker Rob Bironas, Titans
Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.
If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.
We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post. Now we move to kickers and punters, who wear numbers between 1 and 19, although the vast majority sport single numbers.
1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers hasn’t shown off the big leg he featured earlier in his career, but he has developed into a consistent threat on field goals. He gets the nod over Dallas’ Mat McBriar, a supersolid punter. Other notable 1s: Pat McAfee, Colts; Matt Turk, Texans
2 – P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs – He doesn’t get much credit, but Colquitt may be the NFL’s best punter not named Shane Lechler. With 31 punts inside the 20 vs. just four touchbacks, and with an incredibly low average return rate of just 5.2 yards, it’s no wonder that Colquitt is second in the NFL in net punting with a 41.9-yard average. We give him the nod over good placekickers like David Akers of Philly, Mason Crosby of Green Bay, and Rob Bironas of Tennessee. Other notable 2s: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Nick Harris, Lions; Reggie Hodges, Browns
3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski has developed into a solid clutch field goal kicker as well as a strong kickoff specialist. It’s rare to find a single kicker who does both jobs so well. Other notable 3s: Kris Brown, Texans; Josh Brown, Rams; John Carney, Saints; Jeff Reed, Steelers; Jay Feely, Jets; Matt Stover, Colts; Adam Podlesh, Jaguars; Hunter Smith, Redskins; Matt Bryant, Falcons
4 – P Andy Lee, 49ers – Lee is another underrated punter with terrific averages both gross and net. He gets the nod over long-time placekickers Jason Hanson of Detroit, John Kasay of Carolina, and Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis, who has missed much of the season. Other notable 4s: Sam Koch, Ravens; Brad Maynard, Bears; Phil Dawson, Browns
5 – P Mike Scifres, Chargers – Scifres’ numbers don’t completely reflect it, but he can be a game-changing punter, as he showed in San Diego’s playoff win over Indianapolis last season. Other notable 5s: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins; Garrett Hartley, Saints; Rhys Lloyd, Panthers; Matt Prater, Broncos; Ben Graham, Cardinals; Donnie Jones, Rams; Chris Kluwe, Vikings
6 – PK Joe Nedney, 49ers – There aren’t dominant kickers or punters at this number, so we’ll give the nod to Nedney, who has long been a solid kicker with a big leg. The fact that he’s about the funniest kicker I ever interviewed doesn’t hurt either. Other notable 6s: Nick Folk, Cowboys; Ryan Succop, Chiefs; Shaun Suisham, Redskins; Chris Hanson, Patriots; Brett Kern, Titans; Thomas Morstead, Saints; Sav Rocca, Eagles
7 – P Jason Baker, Panthers – Few kickers wear this number, so Baker, who isn’t having his best season but has been solid in his time in Carolina, gets the nod. Other notable 7s: Jeremy Kapinos, Packers; Billy Cundiff, Ravens
8 – PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, and he’s 18-for-19 on field goals this year, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. That gives him a slight nod over Buffalo P Brian Moorman. Other notable 8: Dirk Johnson, Buccaneers
9 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – Lechler is on his way to a record-setting season. As Bill Simmons pointed out on Friday, Lechler has a chance to break the single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt (held by Hall of Fame QB Slingin’ Sammy Baugh). Lechler is currently averaging 51.7, and his net average of 44.7 yards is nearly three yards better than the single-season record, which Lechler already holds. He’s the best punter in the league and might be the best punter ever. Other notable 9s: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers; Michael Koenen, Falcons; Jon Ryan, Seahawks; Daniel Sepulveda, Steelers; Steven Weatherford, Jets; Robbie Gould, Bears; Rian Lindell, Bills; Lawrence Tynes, Giants
10 – PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has had his playoff problems, but he’s been a reliable regular-season producer. That gives him the nod over Seattle’s Olindo Mare, who is having a good season but has been inconsistent in recent years. Other notable 10s: Connor Barth, Buccaneers; Josh Scobee, Jaguars; Kevin Huber, Bengals
11 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The kicker also known as Sea Bass (think Dumb and Dumber) has a powerful leg and has the distinction of being one of the very few kickers to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
15 – P Craig Hentrich, Titans – Hentrich hasn’t played this season, but we’ll recognize his strong career as a punter in Green Bay and Tennessee here. Other notable 15: Dave Zastudil, Browns
17 – PK Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham has developed into one of the most solid kickers around. Although his consistency this season has been lacking, Graham remains a good threat for Cincy. Other notable 17: Mitch Berger, Broncos
18 – P Jeff Feagles, Giants – Feagles has been punting in the NFL forever, but he still has a roster spot. He’s one of the few practicioners of the art of directional punting left in the league as well. Other notable 18: David Buehler, Cowboys
If you’re paying attention to Football Relativity, you know that we have a bit of an obsession with kickers. From our Crazy Kicker of the Week award to the songs of kickers that are constantly running through our head, we spend way too much time considering the status of these soccer-stylers. (I blame my days writing the kicker reports for Pro Football Weekly‘s fantasy football preview mag.) Since we’re thinking about them, we thought we’d use a Football Relativity comparison to assess the most clutch and least dependable placekickers in the league. The 10 level is for the kicker you’d want taking the game-winning kick in the Super bowl; the 1 level is for a kicker you wouldn’t trust to keep you out of overtime in the preseason.
10 – Adam Vinatieri, Colts – Vinatieri is the gold standard of clutch in the league, since he’s made not one but two Super Bowl-winning kicks. From the time he made a 45-yarder in the snow to advance the Patriots in the 2001 playoffs, he’s been almost automatic in the biggest moments. In fact, he didn’t miss a potential game-winning fourth-quarter kick between 1999 and 2007, an amazing string of clutchness. He’s still the best.
9 – Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been well above average as an NFL kicker. (I have long been well intentioned but susceptible to bad puns.) But he’s still at the top of his game, as he proved by kicking three game-winners and hitting all 6 of his attempts from 50-yards plus. The career 82 percent kicker is still one of the best.
9 (con’t) – Robbie Gould, Bears – Gould’s most famous kick was a 49-yarder in overtime that won a playoff game against the Seahawks three seasons ago. That’s an impressive achievement in the wintry, windy conditions of Soldier Field. He has an 86 percent success rate in his four-year career, which speaks even more about his ability. The fact that Gould made the one big money kick he’s tried so far indicates that his clutch ability is pretty strong.
9 (con’t) – Josh Brown, Rams – Brown was incredibly clutch when he was in Seattle, making two famous game-winners from 50-yards-plus. He’s still as clutch as he ever was – his 49-yard game-winner against Washington last year proves it – but he doesn’t have as many clutch chances as he once did. But kicking indoors will allow Brown to keep his range, and his 19-of-30 success rate on 50-plus yarders shows that Brown is an elite kicker in the league.
9 (con’t) – Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham bounced around the league before finding a home with Cincinnati in 2003, but since then he has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league. He’s made 87.5 percent of his tries as a Bengal, which is a remarkable rate of consistency. He has three career game-winners and is 7-for-14 from 50-yards plus. And he’s done this in a city where the winter weather creates adverse kicking conditions. If Graham played on a better team, more of us would know how clutch he is, but the one-time Pro Bowler and current Bengals franchise player is among the very best in the league.
8 – Jeff Reed, Steelers – Reed hit the first game-winner of the 2009 season in overtime against the Titans, and he has proven to be a solid kicker in his eight years in Pittsburgh. He’s hit nearly 83 percent of his career field goals and has one playoff game-winner as well. He doesn’t have a howitzer for a leg, but in maybe the NFL’s toughest stadium to kick in, Reed continually makes the big ones.
8 (con’t) – Jason Hanson, Lions – Hanson has spent his entire 18-year career with the Lions, and as such he’s been a forgotten kicker in recent years. But he’s an 82 percent career kicker who still has a big leg, as he proved by making 8-of-8 tries from 50-plus-yards last year. Hanson hasn’t had a lot of pressure kicks recently, but his performance elsewhere shows that he still has the chops to make those big kicks.
8 (con’t) – Jason Elam, Falcons – Elam has long had one of the league’s biggest legs, as he proved by tying the NFL record with a 63-yarder in 1998, and he had a streak of 30 straight field goals into last season. Elam got off to a rough start this season, but his career 81 percent average and 60-plus percent rate from 50-yards-plus shows that he’s still a great security blanket in the clutch.
8 (con’t) – John Carney, Saints – Carney is 45 years old, but he’s still a quality kicker, as his Pro Bowl campaign last year showed. The fact that he’s connected on 83 percent of his kicks in his now 20-year career shows his reliability. He no longer has eye-popping range, but if you have a pressure 40-yarder, there are few kickers you would want more than Carney.
8 (con’t) – Rob Bironas, Titans – In his five years in Tennessee, Bironas has hit 83 percent of his field goal tries, and he’s also shown late-game chops. He famously had four game-winning kicks in 2005, including a 60-yarder to beat the Colts. He also had eight field goals in a single game against the Texans. Bironas is one of the best young kickers in the league.
7 – Nick Folk, Cowboys – Folk, a third-year kicker, has been extremely consistent for the Cowboys. Last year he hit on 20-of-22 field goal tries, and for his career he’s over 87 percent on kicks. He’s also 5-for-8 career on tries of 50 yards or longer. He’s also made some long game-winning or game-tying kicks, including a 52-yarder that forced overtime against Arizona last year and a 53-yarder to beat Buffalo in a 2007 Monday-night game.
7 (con’t) – Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski faced the unenviable task of replacing Adam Vinatieri in New England, but he has performed well, going to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s connected on about 85 percent of his career field goals and has a strong leg both on kickoffs and on field goals, and his playoff performance has been solid as well. Gostkowski hasn’t had the moments Vinatieri had so far, but his performance indicates that he’s ready to handle them.
6 – Joe Nedney, 49ers – Of all the kickers I’ve ever interviewed, Nedney was one of my favorites. He’s a huge guy – 6-foot-5 – who has always had leg strength but who took a while to gain consistency. But he has made 88 percent of his field goals since coming to San Fran in ’05, which goes to show that he’s become a dependable guy.
6 (con’t) – Lawrence Tynes, Giants – Tynes is an 80 percent career kicker, and he also made a big-time 47-yard kick in overtime against Green Bay in the NFC championship to put the Giants into the Super Bowl, even though he had missed two shorter field goals earlier in the game. He doesn’t have a huge leg – he hasn’t made a 50-yard-plus field goal since 2006 in Kansas City – and the fact that the Giants chose John Carney over Tynes throughout the 2008 season is a red flag too. But Tynes has established himself as a trustworthy option.
6 (con’t) – John Kasay, Panthers – Kasay has been with Carolina since the franchise took the field in 1995, and by and large he has been a consistent force. He’s shown the ability to make long field goals in the clutch, but he famously failed in a couple of big spots in the Panthers’ lone Super Bowl appearance. He has 12 game-winners in his career, and even approaching age 40 he’s still a good if not great clutch option.
5 – David Akers, Eagles – Akers hit 19 straight postseason field goals before finally missing one in last year’s NFC championship game, which goes to show that he’s ultra-dependable in big spots. He’s a career 80 percent kicker, but last year was his first season in four where he surpassed the 80 percent mark for the year. Akers has a good pedigree, but his numbers are starting to leak, which makes that miss vs. the Cardinals last year loom a little larger. Still, most teams would be happy to ride on Akers’ leg.
5 (con’t) – Phil Dawson, Browns – Dawson is in his 11th season as the Browns’ kicker, and he’s made nearly 83 percent of his kicks in weather that can often be the opposite of kicker-friendly. He also has 11 game-winning kicks in that time. He’s a solid 10-of-15 on tries of 50-yards-plus, which shows he can make those kicks but doesn’t often take them. He’s provided a good comfort level for the Browns over the years.
5 (con’t)- Kris Brown, Texans – Brown, who started his career with the Steelers, has been in Houston since the Texans were born, has 11 career game-winning field goals, including eight with Houston. One of those was a 57-yarder to beat the Dolphins in 2007. His career percentage is just under 80 percent, but he has made 55 percent of his 50-yard-plus attempts. Brown has the chops to make a long field goal in the clutch, but he’s not the sure-fire three-point producer that some other kickers are.
4 – Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers’ career percentage of 77.4 percent isn’t great, but he has a strong leg (19 career 50-plus field goals), and he has one Pro Bowl season in ’05. He made an NFL record 40 field goals that year. In recent years, he’s been a very solid option for the Cards, but he’s never been the ultraconsistent option other kickers are.
4 (con’t) – Mason Crosby, Packers – In his three years in Green Bay, Crosby has shown a big leg that is a little wild at times. He’s completed just under 79 percent of his kicks, which is a percentage lower than most teams would prefer. He does have the ability to hit from deep, making 7-of-12 from 50-yards-plus. He’s a great touchback guy and a long-range threat, but for a clutch 42-yarder there are better options in the league.
4 (con’t) – Dan Carpenter, Dolphins – In his first season last year, Carpenter hit 21-of-25 field goals, including a last-minute game winner vs. Oakland and one 50-yarder. His only misses were from 40 yards and further, which means he was automatic on short-to-midrange tries. His career is off to a good start, but we have a long way to go before we can truly call him clutch. But like Vinatieri, Carpenter was an undrafted free agent found by Bill Parcells, so at least the pedigree is there.
3 – Josh Scobee, Jaguars – Scobee is in his sixth year in Jacksonville, but his success rate on field goals is less than 80 percent, which is not ideal. He did make four 50-yarders last year, which along with his touchback percentage shows his value, and he made back-to-back game-winners early last season. Scobee is the ultimate good but not great NFL kicker who you think can make the big one but who will always leave a shadow of doubt.
3 (con’t) – Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The former first-round pick (you read that right) has always had one of the league’s biggest legs, as he showed by making a 57-yard game-winner last year vs. the Jets. But his consistency level has been spotty, as shown by his 77 percent career success rate. Sea-Bass is a great option for long clutch kicks of 55 yards or more, but at more reasonable distances there are many other guys you’d rather have.
3 (con’t) – Jay Feely, Jets – Feely has bounced around a little, but his career accuracy rate is 81.5 percent, and he has five career game-winners. He doesn’t have a big leg, which shows in his scattershot rate on field goals of 40 yards or more (65 percent). So Feely is a dependable guy on the short field goals but not the guy you want taking a long attempt in the clutch.
3 (con’t) – Mike Nugent, Buccaneers – Nugent has three career game-winners, but his career percentage of 79.8 is only average among NFL kickers. Now that he’s in Tampa Bay where the environment is more kicker-friendly, he could up his percentage. But he needs to take advantage of his strong leg by making more of his long attempts before he can be considered a real clutch threat.
3 (con’t) – Olindo Mare, Seahawks – Mare landed in Seattle last year and beat out Brandon Coutu in the race to replace Josh Brown. Mare had a solid season, making 24-of-27 field goals including a game-winner against the Rams. But last year was only the second time since 2002 that Mare made more than 78 percent of his field-goal tries. He has a strong leg for kickoffs but has been scattershot on his longer attempts, making just 18-0f-39 from 50-yards-plus in his career. Mare deserves credit for holding off Coutu two years in a row, but he’s no longer an elite clutch kicker in the NFL.
2 – Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has a big leg and great regular-season results (86 percent success rate), but his playoff results are lacking. He missed game-tying tries that eliminated the Chargers in the ’04 and ’05 seasons, and missed in four straight postseason games. So despite the fact that his stats look good, Kaeding isn’t the guy you want taking a clutch kick.
2 (con’t) – Rian Lindell, Bills – Lindell has made his chops as a bad-weather kicker in Buffalo, and he has made 80 percent of his career field-goal tries along with every extra-point he has ever tried. But Lindell’s clutch performance has been less than ideal, which means that there are better options out there.
1 – Matt Prater, Broncos – Since replacing Jason Elam in Denver last year, Prater has showed a big leg with good range, but his consistency is lacking (only 70 percent success rate). He has hit 6-of-7 from 50-plus, which helps, but he’s still someone who needs to prove his clutch chops.
1 (con’t) – Shaun Suisham, Redskins – Suisham struggled last season after performing consistently in his first two years in Washington. His career percentage is just 78 percent, and he missed a 30-yarder in his long playoff game. Suisham could still grow into a consistent kicker, but that consistency has been lacking so far.
1 (con’t) – Steven Hauschka, Ravens – Hauschka replaces long-time Ravens kicker Matt Stover this year because he’s got a longer leg both on kickoffs and field goals. The former N.C. State kicker had two long attempts last year as the kickoff specialist, hitting from 54 and missing from 52, and he’s 1-of-2 thus far this season. But he has a long way to go before he provides a comfort level.
1 (con’t) – Ryan Succop, Chiefs – Succop, who was Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL draft this year, made his first career field goal, a 53-yarder against Baltimore. It remains to be seen how clutch Succop will be, but he is one of the most intriguing to watch because his kicking leg is about three times as muscular as his plant leg. Believe me – it’s hard to stop staring at the difference.
We began our NFL free agency preview with a massive post comparing the 14 franchise players to each other. We did a couple other takes on the market before the shopping began in earnest on Feb. 27. Later this week, we’ll talk about some of the releases that have happened and put them through the relativity ringer.
First, in this post, we’re going to talk about some of the key re-signings that happened before the new league year began on Feb. 27. Future re-signings will be noted in the free-agent moves posts to come. But for now, here are the key moves relative to each other. Again, 10 is a vital move, and 1 is a move that we barely notice.
(Note: Franchise players who resigned, including Brandon Jacobs, are omitted here because they were covered in this post.)
10- CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders – Simply put, Asomugha is the best cornerback in the league, and the Raiders had to keep him. They’re paying a premium to do so – 2 years at a little more than $28 million, plus a third-year option at $16 million more. But that price is cheaper (at least marginally) than franchising Asomugha for the next three years, and it allows the Raiders to build their defense around him. Personally, I’d love to see Asomugha on a great team, but Oakland couldn’t afford to let him go – no matter the cost.
9 – C Jeff Saturday, Colts – It looked as thought Saturday was out of Indy, but a last-minute bump in the salary cap gave the Colts room to keep him. It was stunning last season the difference in the Colts’ offense when Saturday was in the lineup and when he was absent. That was the first prolonged injury of Saturday’s career. He’s dependable, he’s a line leader, and he can keep the line calls up with Peyton Manning’s extensive audibiling. The Colts needed to keep him, and the last second Hail Mary that kept him a Colt will end up being the team’s key move of the offseason.
8 – OT Jordan Gross, Panthers – The Panthers made the playoffs last year by establishing an identity as a run-first team, and Gross (along with ORT Jeff Otah) are the key offensive linemen in that strategy. It’s hard to find a run-first tackle who’s also nimble enough to protect the QB’s blind side, but Gross has both skill sets. The fact that the Panthers got this 6-year, $60 million deal done in time to franchise Julius Peppers is also a plus. Carolina paid full market value (and maybe then some) for Gross, but he’s a cornerstone at a key position, so it’s worth it.
7 – S Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins – No team was as aggressive about resigning its own players before they hit the open market than the Dolphins. (You’ll see entries on Channing Crowder and Vernon Carey below.) Bell is probably the best of the litter. He got a 4-year, $20 million deal, which is strong for a safety – especially after the Dolphins signed Raiders castoff Gibril Wilson. Bell and Wilson should give Miami veteran leadership, versatility, and vigor in the back end of the defense.
6 – CB Kelvin Hayden, Colts – The Colts identified Hayden as their No. 1 priority entering free agendy, and they would have used a franchise tag on him had he not agreed to a 5-year, $43 million contract just before the deadline. Hayden has been a productive player for the Colts thus far, but the big question is whether he can maintain his level of performance as the Colts begin to inch (if not sprint) away from the Tampa 2 defensive system that former coach Tony Dungy used. If the defense changes drastically, Hayden will have to prove that he has better 1-on-1 cover skills than he has shown thus far. Can he do it? It’s impossible to tell at this point. But the fact that the Colts were willing to pay Hayden, a defensive player, means that they think he can. For now, we’ll give Bill Polian and the front office the benefit of the doubt thus far, and we’ll hope (for their sake) that Hayden’s big contract doesn’t look in 2 years like ex-Colt Jason David’s big deal with New Orleans now looks.
6 (con’t) – LB Channing Crowder, Dolphins – Crowder re-signed with Miami on the cusp of free agency. While he’s not an impact guy, he’s an effective tackler who cleans up his area well. The Dolphins didn’t use their franchise tag, but they ended up keeping the guys they most wanted to keep in Crowder and Vernon Carey.
5- OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins – The Dolphins didn’t use their franchise tag on Carey, but the day after the franchise-tag deadline passed, they inked Carey to a 6-year, $42 million deal. That seems like big money, especially since Carey projects as either a right tackle or a guard for Miami. (Remember that Jake Long is now ensconced as the Dolphins’ left tackle of the present, future, and beyond.) Because some teams might think that Carey could play left tackle, his price tag was going to be artificially inflated -whether in Miami or elsewhere. So good for Carey for cashing in, and Miami keeps some continuity on the offensive line. The fact that head coach Tony Sparano (a former OL coach) wanted Carey to stay is endorsement enough to wait and see whether this deal ends up being worth it.
5 (con’t) – CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins – For the second straight offseason, Hall got a huge contract. In ’08, he got $24 million in guaranteed money from Oakland, but the Raiders cut him after eight games because he was such a bad fit for their system. Hall landed in Washington and ended up being a huge upgrade over aging and injured corners Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot. Hall has worlds of talent, and in the right system he is a good fit, but he’s not a No. 1 corner – no matter what his new 6-year, $54 million contract tries to tell you. But it’s not a bad gig to lock down a total of $46.5 million in guaranteed money in less than 12 months.
4 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – The Raiders paid Shane Lechler an eye-popping 4-year deal worth $16 million. The previous high-water mark for punters when it comes to salary was $2.35 million, so Lechler – who is the top punter in the league, to be fair – got nearly double the going rate. That’s a huge contract, but let’s think through it. First of all, we can assume that Lechler wasn’t going to re-sign in Oakland for market value because of the Raiders’ paperthin playoff chances. In other words, the Raiders had to pay a premium. And Lechler, a 4-time Pro Bowl choice, averages a league-record 46.8 yards per punt for his career, and his net average of 41.2 yards last year is a sterling figure. If any punter deserves to be the highest paid in the league, it’s Lechler. And if any team needs a punter, given its offensive struggles, it’s Oakland. So this deal, while it’s overkill financially, will make an impact.
4 (con’t) – CB Joselio Hanson, Philadelphia – The Eagles are as proactive as any team in re-signing young players who haven’t played much but might in the future. Sometimes these moves work; sometimes they don’t. But Hanson, who has played quite a bit for a fourth cornerback, projects as a third corner type, and having him locked up could make it easier for the Eagles to trade unhappy Lito Sheppard. For that reason alone, this move is worth noting.
4 (con’t) FB Tony Richardson, Jets – Richardson has long been one of the best lead fullbacks in the league, and his appearance in New York last year helped Thomas Jones bounce back from a bad ’07 season to have a very productive rushing campaign in ’08. So it’s worth it for the Jets to keep Richardson on a modest 1-year deal.
3- QB Luke McCown, Buccaneers – It’s hard to believe, but the new Buccaneers regime gave McCown a 2-year, $7.5 million deal under the belief that he can compete for the starting quarterback job there. McCown would have to beat out Brian Griese and Josh Johnson to win the job, but the fact that he’s actually getting this opportunity is a little mind-boggling. McCown, a former Browns draft pick, showed a little promise in his appearances at the end of the ’07 season, but I still don’t see an answer here. As I’ve written before (check the comments on this post), McCown’s upside is probably somewhere around what J.T. O’Sullivan showed last year for the 49ers. In other words, McCown may start, but he’s not going to be a good starter.
3 (con’t) – DT Ryan Sims, Buccaneers – Another Buc re-signing is rotation defensive tackle Sims. The former No. 6 overall pick hasn’t lived up to that billing, but he’s proven to be at least a decent role player in Tampa. At 4 years, $8 million, if Sims can be the Bucs’ No. 3 DT, it’s worth it.
3 (con’t) – PK Rob Bironas, Titans – Bironas is a good kicker, but the difference between so-so kickers and the top level at this point in the NFL just isn’t that big. That said, Bironas is clutch, he can hit the 50-yard field goal, and for a defensive-first playoff team like Tennessee, that’s important. Tennessee franchised Bironas last offseason and probably would have again if they hadn’t agreed on the 4-year deal (which is worth $12M or $16M, depending on who you read). It’s a solid signing, even if it is a little pricy.
3 (con’t) – TE Justin Peelle, LB Coy Wire, DT Jason Jefferson, Falcons – We’ll do these signings as a trifecta, because they’re key to the Falcons depth. Wire could end up starting next year if Michael Boley leaves via free agency. Peelle is a solid blocking tight end who fits the Falcons’ offensive scheme well. Jefferson is a solid contributor as a rotation defensive tackle.
2 – OG Stephen Peterman and PK Jason Hanson, Lions – The Lions have two signings on this level. Peterman is a two-year starter at guard, and his modest contract (5 years, $15 million) will be worth it if he can be a decent starter. If he ends up being above average, this deal could end up being a steal. Hanson is 39 years old, and yet the Lions gave him a 4-year contract. That basically will ensure that Hanson, who has been in Detroit since 1992, will play his whole career as a Lion. Hanson won PFW’s Golden Toe award as best kicker last year after making 8 50-yard field goals and missing just once overall. This is a decent football move that means more in Detroit because Hanson has been there forever. (Speaking as someone who watches how Panthers fans love John Kasay, who has three fewer years of tenure in town, I have to imagine that Hanson is a fan fave.)
2 (con’t) – OG Kynan Forney, Chargers – The Chargers didn’t play Forney at all last season, his first in San Diego. But with starter Mike Goff facing free agency, San Diego locked up Forney for 2 years, $4.8 million as a fallback. Forney can be at least an average NFL guard (he started 89 games in 7 seasons in Atlanta), so having this option at a reasonable price is decent foresight for San Diego. He’s not the best-case scenario, but he’s not a worst-case scenario either.
2 (con’t) – FB Corey McIntyre and OT Kirk Chambers, Bills – The Bills picked McIntyre up off the street midseason last year, and he became a solid blocking fullback for him. That’s an asset for a run-first team like Buffalo, and so it’s worth keeping him on a two-year deal. Chambers is a swing lineman who can fill in at several spots along the line.
1- QB David Carr, Giants – Carr bombed out as a backup QB in Carolina two years ago, but with the Giants last year he played well in basically one extended appearance. If the Giants are comfortable with him behind Eli Manning, he’s worth the one-year, $2.1 million deal.